After a 42-year career at the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office, Undersheriff Kent Lagerquist retired Jan. 16, 2016. He began his career in 1974 as a corrections officer and worked in several divisions until he was appointed undersheriff in 2000. He spent one of his final working days in a ride-along in his son’s patrol car.
Sheriff Wickersham appointed Capt. Elizabeth Darga as the ensuing undersheriff. Darga began her career as a corrections officer in 1987, moved up the ranks, and was one of the first females promoted to the position of captain.
Historically, Macomb has been a leader in promoting female deputies. In 1921, Sheriff John Spaller hired Jennie Norton, Bessie Hacker (local society woman), and Belle Carney as the first official female deputies in the county. When jail reform began demanding separate facilities for women and juveniles, women became more common in law enforcement where they served as matrons.
Traditionally, the sheriff’s wife played an important role in the Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff and his family lived in the jail, and his wife automatically assumed the role of matron, turnkey, cook, housekeeper and seamstress for the prisoners. In 1888, when Macomb Sheriff Samuel DeKay died in office, his wife Amelia was kept on to cook and clean for the prisoners, as the undersheriff was a single man.
Ironically, after the placement of the first group of female deputies, it was over 50 years later that the next female deputy was hired; Sheriff Bill Hackel promoted Alice Faye Kirkpatrick from matron to deputy in February of 1977. The position of matron was eliminated in Macomb County in 1989.
Cynthia S. Donahue is a historian for Macomb County Facilities and Operations. This article was featured in Macomb Matters in January 2016.